For many fans of Sophie Kinsella's work, it's hard to imagine what could make her books even more enjoyable. Thanks to one of the lovely teams at the BBC, we may have found one. Kinsella's new book, Wedding Night, has been abridged for radio as part of the Book at Beachtime series for BBC Radio 4 Extra.
Novelicious was fortunate enough to sit in on some of the recording and see how these shows are put together. As fans of the book will already know, there are two perspectives to consider in Wedding Night: sisters Lottie and Fliss. We were there to hear Fliss's side of the story, as read by the multitalented Sarah Alexander (Smack the Pony, Green Wing), who brought both the emotion and hilarity, so often found in Kinsella's books, to the recording.
There's a lot to consider with this kind of recording. How do you make internal monologue sound like internal monologue, not speech, when the listener cannot see the punctuation? How do you add character to an outlandish Greek hotel owner without hamming up the accent to the point of farce? More importantly, how do you pronounce some of the Greek words? For the producer, the issue is often whether or not to correct the actor when mistakes are made (as they inevitably are) or let them continue and go over the mistakes afterwards. Once the actor is in mid-flow, it can be massively counter-productive to cut them off.
As I watched the collaboration unfold between Sarah Alexander and the team at the BBC, it was evident how much of a team effort these shows really are. Serious discussion was had about one line involving a rabbit that made very little sense in this abridged version. Nobody was too concerned that their voice would not be heard if they had a suggestion query (even me!). Alexander, at one point, got the giggles because one of the lines she had to say sounded so much like something she would say herself (it involved stickers – that's all I'm saying!).
There are technical issues of course: does the sound of the page being turned drown out the words, does a word lose clarity buried amongst an emotional speech? The pattern here seemed to be for the actor to read the entire section, go through notes with the producer, then either do a read through once more or do specific retakes on sections that may not have worked first time around. The fascinating thing is that by "not worked" I don't necessarily mean that the actor did anything wrong specifically. In many cases, it was more a question of direction.
Reading, after all, is open to interpretation. The very best authors (in my humble opinion) don't spell things out for their readers, choosing instead to leave some things slightly ambiguous and for the reader to take as they wish. Three takes were done on the very last words of the recording as the final word – "So." – could be taken in so many ways. Also, where should the emphasis be? Should certain key points be stressed more than others? The team have to make a decision as to what works best and hope they get it right.
The most enjoyable part of the entire afternoon really did come from just watching Sarah Alexander. The different voices, inflections and fumbles she used to make the dialogue more realistic and more entertaining sounded great but watching her perform them in a small recording room was captivating. There were theatrical facial expressions when a character was happy or sad. Her arms waved around when the character was stressed. She rested her face in her hands when the character was losing the will to go on. This really was more than just a reading of the text. This was a performance.
Like I said, it's hard to imagine what could make a Sophie Kinsella book more enjoyable – until you've seen it acted out for radio.
So whether you've read the book or not, I highly recommend checking out Wedding Night and the Book at Beachtime series at R4Extra. The show runs from 1st to 5th July. Pay close attention to Sarah Alexander's drunken Lottie – it's riotous fun. Happy listening!